Virginia governor spent 65 days on taxpayer-funded jaunts to his NC beach home since start of 2019
Democrat Ralph Northam invoked executive privilege to initially block release of travel dates but relented on appeal.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
On a Saturday night in the dead of August last year, Virginia taxpayers footed the bill as a state-operated plane roared from Richmond to one of North Carolina’s desirable beach destinations. The King Air 350 turboprop made the journey twice in six hours.
The VIP passengers? Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pamela, the first lady of Virginia.
The listed purpose for a back-and-forth jaunt? The Northams took a brief break Aug. 31, 2019 from their Outer Banks beach vacation home in Manteo, N.C., to attend a horse race at the Colonial Downs track back in their home state and ceremoniously hand out a trophy to the winner. Then, they went back to the beach.
The trip is one of about two dozen that the Northams took to and from their beach home at taxpayer’s expense since January 2019, spending part or all of 65 days in the North Carolina resort community, according to travel records obtained by Just the News under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
The governor’s public calendar posted online for citizens to see does not show the trips or dates, and when Just the News first sought the records, Northam invoked executive privilege to deny release of his office calendar notations showing the dates he stayed at the beach home.
Just the News appealed, and the governor’s office on Wednesday night relented and provided the calendar notations for his Outer Banks trips.
Those records show Northam spent about 13% of his last 505 days in office at his out-of-state beach home, which he first bought more than a decade ago as a private doctor before he was elected to the Virginia legislature or governor’s mansion.
Dare County, N.C., tax records show the Northams' beach home is valued at more than $579,000, was built in 2001, and has four bedrooms and three bathrooms spread out over more than 2,500 square feet.
The governor’s spokeswoman said Northam makes no apologies for the frequent trips, which cost taxpayers pilot time, driver time, fuel, and security detail expenses.
“The Governor has owned his house on the Outer Banks for over 16 years, prior to entering politics. He and the First Lady sold their Hampton Roads home (a short drive from Manteo) shortly after moving to the Executive Mansion, but like other governors, he continues to maintain a property outside of Richmond,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky told Just the News.
“He travels there occasionally on the weekends, but has not been there since travel restrictions were put in place, nor since Stay at Home Orders went into effect. As you know, it is required that a governor's security detail go where the governor goes — as with previous governors, this includes travel to their properties outside of the Executive Mansion,” she added.
Emails released under the FOIA show that Northam's aides on some occasions had to schedule official events around the first family's many trips to Manteo, or decline invitations for official appearances. For instance, a June 5, 2019 email from aide David Cary to the first lady declined an invitation for her to attend a state business opening because she was going to be at the beach house.
"Just an FYI that this invite came in today for a day when you are in Manteo. I congratulated them on the opening and thanked them for thinking of us but said that evening doesn't work," Carey wrote the first lady.
On most trips to and from Manteo, Northam was driven in a state car with a state police security detail. On three occasions, he and his wife used the state plane, a King Air 350 turbo prop (typically equipped with 11 seats, a private bathroom and WiFi) to travel for events back in Virginia and then back to his beach house. State records indicate the hourly operating cost for the plane, absent the two pilots and landing fees, is about $1,165.
Aides to the governor were flown on the plane on two of those trips, an August 2019 funeral for a state official and an economic announcement in Abingdon, Va.
Records released by the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Aviation under FOIA provide a partial picture of the costs for the trip. They do not include the salary or overtime for pilots (usually two) or security personnel (usually one trooper) but do include incidentals such as fuel, landing fees, meals and hotels.
The Department of Aviation records state the three trips to Manteo cost taxpayers about $9,000 split between the governor’s office and other state agencies for fuel and landing fees.
The state police said it incurred incidental expenses for trips — meals and hotels only — of more than $26,000. It did not provide salary or overtime or vehicle expenses.
The state police records show Northam spent time in Manteo for 10 of the 12 months in 2019 and for each of the first three months of 2020.
The governor spent several holidays at the beach over the past eighteen months, including most of the week of July 4, 2019, Labor Day weekend, his birthday weekend in mid-September, and the Thanksgiving holiday starting on Wednesday of that week, his calendars showed.
His final trip to his beach house listed in the records was the first weekend in March, ending less than two weeks before Northam declared a state of emergency in his state for COVID-19.
Northam has been a figure of national controversy since taking office in 2018, starting with allegations he appeared in racist garb and blackface in a student yearbook and continuing by signing into law measures expanding abortion access and imposing gun restrictions.